Replay: NZ Public relations and communications strategies for the care sector
Lyle Steffensen, National Practices Leader for Care Solutions at Marsh, interviewed Ruth Callaghan, COVID-19 Lead for Strategic Communications Firm, Cannings Purple on how to help NFP and Care organisations manage communications both internally and externally to facilitate an effective response to COVID-19 challenges.
Each question and answer below ties to the Pandemic Response LifeCycle which can be accessed here.
Pandemic lifecycle response phase – Exponential pandemic growth & business interruption
Your challenges: Employee wellbeing and productivity
LS: How do you ensure staff and volunteers are informed in the rapidly changing environment of updates to clinical steps and procedures?
RC: Since the beginning of this crisis, we knew that our elders would be more vulnerable to COVID 19, which made all staff and visitors potential disease carriers. Organisations need to engage staff in the conversation to not only inform them on what is required to keep them safe but the residents as well. They also say need to be clear about what conversation they have with anyone else they encounter during their day, including residents and their family. All parties need to be in the communication chain because if any one point breaks it can potentially become fatal. Some organisations have had to recreate or reorganise the communication channel and internal communications process, such as creating a microsite and SMS system dedicated to COVID 19 updates, and having information in different languages for multilingual employees. A lot of movement has also had to take place to upskill staff to deal with responding to COVID-19 as a continuously evolving challenge rather than the already existing clinical expectation and training they might already have.
LS: Do you agree that the focus has just been on clinical health and disease prevention? How do you equip organisations to share risk-related information with residents, family and external parties (such as media) other than what has been provided clinically?
RC: This is a psychosocial challenge as well as a health challenge. The psychosocial challenge is that some people can get very distressed at any change in routine, particularly people who have dementia or a limited understanding of what is happening and are now required to take additional steps for their own safety. Some people need to be motivated to action, so organisations need to get them worried enough about what they were doing before that they change a habit or a pattern — but at the same time try not to make them panicked or afraid. There are also people that are quite upset by the situation while others can develop destructive behaviours and not follow new protocols. Organisations need to work with staff so they understand the range of behaviours to expect and to provide strategies for those behaviours. Emotions such as panic or depression can be very infectious and easy to spread through the facility/organisation, which makes it crucial to be able to manage these reactions with clear communication about support available, and the right ways to respond.
LS: How do you support your staff to both be able to continue to be effective in their job but also protect their own emotional wellbeing?
RC: This is going to be a huge challenge going forward. Right now, the organisations that are doing well are those that have a good residual corporate trust. Companies that came into the COVID-19 crisis with staff feeling the organisation was honest, empathetic, interested and supportive have found having these more complex conversations easier. However, those organisations with low residual trust and a poor culture have experienced greater levels of confusion, distrust and absenteeism. This will be an ongoing challenge and it is important to ensure corporate trust is imbedded in organisation not just throughout the crisis but also going forward.
LS: Do you have any advice about rostering and how to manage continuity of care when staff or residents become sick? How do you communicate that within your staff so they continue to be empowered and work effectively?
RC: There has been a shift for many organisations to start to think about where the priority is in their organisation. The front line has become more important and it is putting a lot of pressure on those employees who can remain engaged during this crisis. Organisations need to look at where they have more capacity such as people in reserves to bring in if staff are potentially ill with COVID-19. Organisations also need to think about alternating teams or having staff work only in one facility to minimise cross over. These complex organisational questions, which did not seem important a month ago, now need to be the focus in every organisation.